There may have been a happy outcome in the case of ship captain Richard Phillips seized by Somali pirates – he is home after being rescued by U.S. Navy Seals – but still locked in an agony of waiting is the family of former U.S. Army Guard major Felix Batista, who was snatched outside a Mexican restaurant last year – only to drop from the face of the earth.
The family has yet to hear a single word from his abductors. “I don’t have words to describe the pain,” Lourdes Batista told CNN recently, after her husband had been missing for more than 100 days.
On December 10, 2008, Batista, a kidnapping expert, was ironically kidnapped himself outside a restaurant in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico by unknown persons. In a further irony, he was visiting to speak and give anti-kidnapping advice.
Batista was in the restaurant with several others when he received a phone call, according to a statement by the state attorney general’s office in Saltillo.
According to the Mexican AG, after speaking on the telephone, he told his fellow diners that some folks were coming by to give him a message. A video tape shows him apparently voluntarily getting into a vehicle just outside the eatery. Since that moment, there has been nothing but silence from Batista and those that took him.
There has never been a ransom demand.
The latter is especially troubling since the “business” of kidnapping in Mexico is fueled by the desire to extort money in the form of ransom from the victim’s family or even his or her employer.
A Mexican human rights ombudsman has reported that there were no less than 5,140 reported kidnappings between 2001 and 2008. Included are U.S. citizens and other foreigners.
“The Mexican citizens, how do they live like this every day of their lives? It’s beyond me,” Lourdes Batista told CNN. “I fear for them and fear for their loved ones.”
She added that while there have been no threats against her or against her five children with Felix, she still lives in perpetual fear.
“I do live in fear, but mostly for Felix and for the families that are going through what I’m going through,” Lourdes Batista said.
She added that the kidnappers’ silence has left her feeling impotent.
A cousin of Batista, who has elected to remain anonymous, told Newsmax: “Felix has secured the safe return of hundreds of kidnapped individuals in Mexico and elsewhere through his diligent professionalism, but yet his whereabouts remain unknown since his kidnapping.
“There seems to be little if any interest from the U.S. State Department, regardless of the fact he was acting in the capacity of a ‘kidnapping negotiator’ for a privately held firm. He is still a U.S. citizen and should be afforded the same rights and attention from the U.S. Government that would be afforded any U.S. citizen held in a foreign country.
“Felix has a loving family who care for him deeply. The silence from both the kidnappers and our own government are proving difficult to bear -- especially since this man, in public life, gave so much for his country.”
But the chief executive officer of ASI Global Response, which has been Batista’s employer since May 2007, disputes the cousin’s impression that things have been standing still.
Charlie LeBlanc, who described Batista as a “multi-disciplined security practitioner” who also worked on extortion cases and consulted with corporations, said his company has been anything but “silent.”
LeBlanc noted that ASI Global has from the first word of his disappearance been involved with their missing employee’s family, serving as a liaison with the FBI and Mexican authorities and reviewing each and every tip that comes in about Batista’s whereabouts, according to a recent CNN report.
LeBlanc further described the Mexican national police as “very forthcoming in sharing information” gathered in the case, LeBlanc said. He added, “We’ve had viable leads. They just haven’t panned out.”
A Newsmax inquiry to the U.S. Department of State also revealed that that agency has an open and active file on the missing citizen.
In March, the Batista formally petitioned U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her recent trip to Mexico to bring her influence to bear on firing up the Batista kidnapping investigation and to speak out about the pattern of violence in that country and the safety of Americans visiting there.
The Plot Thickens
Unlike the relatively straightforward facts concerning the ship captain and his misadventure with the Somali pirates, the case of Felix Batista has some curious twists and turns.
According to security camera images from the scene in front of the restaurant, one of the men who guided Batista into the vehicle greeted him with familiarity.
“One of the men comes out of the truck and pats him on the back,” Coahuila state Attorney General Jesus Torres recently described to the Washington Post. “There is no armed commando forcing him.”
The friends and colleagues dining with Batista described that before Batista interrupted his meal to go outside, he received a couple of calls from the owner of a local security company, one José Pilar Valdez, and also another call from Pilar’s adult son.
The significance of those calls is revealed by further facts presented by the state attorney general’s office. It turns out that Pilar, himself, was kidnapped hours before Batista was carried away. Unlike Batista who has disappeared, Pilar was shortly released.
According to Mexican investigators working with the AG’s office, there is a theory afoot that Pilar was perhaps the bait to draw Batista into a snare.
Why kidnap Batista?
The Spanish-speaking Batista was not unknown in Mexico. Before the kidnapping, he had appeared on a prominent Mexican TV program with Ana Maria Salazar, who served as an anti-drug official in the Clinton administration.
During the interview, according to a Washington Post story, Batista said Mexico was the worst place in the world to be kidnapped – discounting Iraq.
“Mexico unfortunately suffers a much higher incidence of problems in the negotiations. Something happens to the victim. They kill them, they maim them, they rape them,” he told the TV audience.
In another twist, which some involved in the investigation venture to say is significant, Batista was carried off soon after the governor of the state of Coahuila, where the restaurant is located, made an impassioned plea that the death penalty be reinstated for the crime of kidnapping.
LeBlanc and others have opined that Batista’s disappearance was perhaps carried out as a warning message from drug cartels and/or kidnapping cadres that they will not ever be discouraged from their trade.
Batista, who had visited Mexico 20 times in the past year, participating in various security conferences and giving talks with local business leaders, had become a symbol of sorts for replacing the chaos fostered by the cartels with order and discipline. He also was known to have considerable knowledge of corrupt police.
He may have been considered too dangerous to be allowed to continue his trade.
In any event, he apparently knew he was going into harm’s way that evening he disappeared. On his way out the door, he gave one of the diners his laptop, shoulder bag and contact numbers.
“If I’m not back,” he reportedly said, “call these numbers.”
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